If history is kind (and accurate) it will remember Alcest as one of the most important metal bands of all time. After all, the flood of bands fusing the passion of black metal with the textures of shoegaze and the drama of post rock (see: Deafheaven, Oathbreaker, Brutus) are taking pages from their playbook. Their debut EP Le Secret fused these elements together in a way that many bands are still using as a blueprint—and it came out in 2005.
Since then, they have continued to explore that fusion without too much variation, outside of 2014's screamless Shelter, while bandleader Neige has contributed to just about every metal band in Europe (he's the French voice in one the interludes on Deafheaven's Sunbather album).
Spiritual Instinct, their sixth full length, doesn't offer too many surprises, but that's exactly what it needs to do. At this point, the best thing Alcest can do is to stay the course. Their particular genre bending (imagined by Neige as what music sounds like in the mystical, fairy-filled woods he invented as a child) has already cemented their legacy. All Alcest fans want is more music worthy of that legacy. And this album is certainly that.
That said, this isn't just a rehash of Kodama or Écailles de Lune. It's certainly reminiscent of their past work, but there's enough here to keep things fresh.
On social media, Neige teased that Spiritual Instinct would be darker than previous albums, and it certainly is that. The ratio of clean vocals to screamed vocals isn't much different than usual, but there are some instrumental elements that shift the tone. The bass guitar is more prominent than on previous records. There are some new electronic elements in their sonic palette, such as the industrial beat that opens the nine-minute epic "L'Île des Morts" (Island of the Dead), and the icy synths that pierce the atmosphere of "Le Miroir" (The Mirror). The frantic riffs of "Protection" are more muscular than anything else they've ever done.
Throughout the record, the group shows just how powerful a simple change of rhythmic accent or shift in mode can be. Songs turn on a dime, to great effect. This has always been part of the Alcest blueprint, but on this record, it seems that they're flexing those muscles a bit more, and those shifts become even more rewarding with repeated listens.
In all, Spiritual Instinct is exactly what it needs to be: a great record that hits all of the best notes from Alcest's existing catalogue and rearranges them just enough to keep it fresh. It's a record that doesn't just live up to the band's legacy, but adds to it in a profound way.